See No Evil

Denise Wolff was gunned down in front of her home in a quiet South St. Louis neighborhood. Police thought they had the killer until their star witness wrecked the case.

She began replaying scenes in her mind, the way Larry acted strangely at a fish fry Larry and Denise attended at Sandy's house the week before Denise's death, and how he told her he wished Denise would drop this "talk about a divorce." She began thinking about the way Larry could be possessive -- how he raised two dogs from pups and, Sandy says, chose to kill them rather than give them away when he and Denise were moving from one rental property to another. "Someone said, "Why don't you give those dogs away?'" Sandy says. "And he said, "They're my dogs, and no one is going to have them but me.' He took them out and beat them with a crowbar and a hammer," she says.

Sandy found it hard to understand why her son-in-law made no attempt to go to his wife to comfort her after she'd been shot and made no attempt to go to the hospital with her: "He made no effort to go, to follow or see if she was dead or alive. He stayed right there at the house."

Angie had her own theory on why Larry didn't rush to her mother's side. "If that happened to my husband, I would be devastated and I would be at his side," Angie says. "I think he was scared shitless to think she might be able to say, "Why did you do this to me?' I swear I think that's why he didn't go to my mom. He didn't want to take that chance. I think he was afraid."

Denise Wolff was murdered outside her home on Bancroft (right) in July 1997. Her husband, Larry, lived a short distance away, in a house on Jamieson (left).
Denise Wolff was murdered outside her home on Bancroft (right) in July 1997. Her husband, Larry, lived a short distance away, in a house on Jamieson (left).
Denise Wolff was murdered outside her home on Bancroft in July 1997. Her husband, Larry, lived a short distance away, in a house on Jamieson (above).
Jennifer Silverberg
Denise Wolff was murdered outside her home on Bancroft in July 1997. Her husband, Larry, lived a short distance away, in a house on Jamieson (above).

In the days after the murder, 10-year-old Jennie went to live with Angie, but with Angie due to give birth, her half-sister went the next month to live with her grandparents in Washington County. Shortly after the murder, Larry had signed a power of attorney that gave the Cantrells custody should he be arrested. But Sandy says she didn't keep her feelings secret from Larry when she told him Jennie was going to live with her.

"He kept saying, "I need to get that power of attorney back,' and I said, "You're not getting it back.' I said, "You know and I know that you killed her.' And he said, "I can't believe you're saying that.' I said, "You're not getting Jennie.'"

Larry Wolff hired a lawyer and filed a habeas corpus motion in September 1997 in an effort to have his daughter returned to him. It was the first volley of what would be an 11-month custody fight.

In January 1998, with little or no progress being made in solving Denise's murder, her parents, sisters and friends held a candlelight vigil in front of her home, pleading for information that might solve her case. It made the news. Larry wasn't invited.

A few months later, Denise's sister Sue somehow tracked down Laurie Chirco, whom they knew about from talking to police. Sue called the office where Laurie worked and left a message asking that she be paged. Chirco returned her call, but she would only meet with Sue at the Clayton office of attorney Steve Ryals. (Ryals, when asked about the case, would neither "confirm nor deny" he ever represented Chirco.) Sue gave Chirco a videotape of TV coverage of Denise's murder.

Sandy says Chirco wouldn't say much to Sue during a meeting at Ryals' office: "All this lady did was cry. She kept crying, "If they found me, he can find me.' All my daughter wanted to know was: "Is that who you saw on the corner?' And she never answered."


In the summer of 1998, nearly a year after the murder, Laurie Chirco called police Detective Chris Pappas and said she wanted to meet. Over the course of three weeks, she called or left messages for Pappas more than 10 times before they finally met on June 21 at a Steak 'n Shake on Chippewa Street. At the restaurant, Chirco told Pappas she'd been repeatedly followed by Larry Wolff.

She gave the detective photographs of a car with city license plates behind her in traffic. She told the detective she'd had a hard time living with what she had witnessed the morning of the murder and that she now wanted to tell police what she'd seen.

According to Chirco, on the morning of the murder she was walking her dog on Jamieson when she saw a man dressed in blue jeans and a white T-shirt. The man saw her, she said, then walked east on Bancroft and stood at the mouth of the alley. She then said she saw a van, light or medium-gray, drive around the block two or three times before stopping in the middle of the street where the man, whom she identified as Larry Wolff, was standing. He talked to the driver, she said, then got into the van, which parked next to Denise's home. Then, she said, she heard shots coming from the van, and she hid in the bushes. When the detective pressed for more details, Chirco refused to say anything else.

She told Pappas she first wanted to confront Wolff herself and encourage him to turn himself in. When the detective discouraged her, Chirco left, saying she'd be in touch.

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